Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A testimony to sovereignty: Not an accident, not a victim

'vaikelis' photo (c) 2006, kambodza - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I told my wife early this morning I planned to post on pornography beginning today. My plan changed, however, on the train ride into work. I checked Tim Chailles' blog, which you can link to here, and went to his first link, one he highly recommended. After I read the recommended post, I knew I wanted to include it here in its entirety before January is gone. I say January, because it is -- as the writer says below -- a month when many of us think about the sanctity of human life.

The post below is by Ashley McMillan on her husband's blog, The Narrow Path. Ashley is a mother of four, and her husband, Jesse, is a pastor in Texas. She titled her Jan. 28 post "Pondering Psalm 139." You may go to it on her husband's blog here.

I strongly encourage you to read all of it. It is beautifully written. When you do, see if you aren't impressed anew with the sovereign majesty of God and touched by the winsome, powerful witness of someone who embraces His sovereignty.
January always provokes me to ponder life: my life, the lives of those surrounding me, and the sanctity of it all. By the world’s standards, I am disabled. Contrary to the stories I have told, I am not the victim of a shark attack or a vicious anaconda. I am not, in fact, a victim at all. I was formed this way. I was born before the days where ultrasounds were a part of standard care. My disability was a complete surprise to my parents, to the doctors, and to the entire small town where I was born.

I talked with my mom just recently about that day. She told me a story I have heard many times, and I still react with the same sense of wonder when I hear it. I am the third child of five. This was not my parents first trip to the hospital for a baby. They knew the process. This time, though, the outcome was different. They did not give a young mother her baby. Everyone moved in quiet panic around the room, each focused on their designated job. When the doctor finally approached her bed, she spoke words that still resonate in my mother’s mind today. . . . ”Before I let you see your baby, I have to tell you that there’s something wrong with her”. I cannot even begin to imagine the sorrow of hearing such words. You see, I have four children of my own now; and, truly, the only thing I wished for them was health. I just wanted my babies to be healthy. They could be bald, look like an alien, have a cone head that never went away, but please Lord let them be healthy. Just imagine what it must have been like to have no idea that there was anything amiss, sitting in a hospital bed with open, waiting, empty arms . . . ”there’s something wrong with her”. How do you even begin to filter through the rush of emotions that accompany such a phrase? From utter joy to utter despair with a few spoken words.

Of course, as many of you already know, the something wrong is a partial limb on my right side. Nothing major to me or anyone who truly knows me, but that is a lesson learned through years of exposure. No one could be certain that there was not more involved. It is an easy assumption to make. If she is missing an arm, what else may be wrong that we can’t see? The truth is, they didn’t know. No one could predict what I would be capable of doing or whether or not whatever I could do would be accepted by any one. My parents went to the hospital ready to welcome their third “normal” child into the world, and what they got was me.

A whole new world of concerns and fears went home with me from the hospital. There was nothing to be done but wait and wonder and pray and strive to not worry. And so they did. They let out a long awaited sigh of relief when I learned to crawl. They praised God when I learned to tie my shoes, and write, and use a fork and knife at the same time. My mom stood in our driveway, weeping tears of joy in her heart when she realized it was me at my Meemaw’s house at the end of the road jumping rope. Each little thing I conquered was a big deal until everyone grew so accustomed to my adaptations that they ceased to be noticeable. I was just one of those “ol’ Istre kids” like my siblings. Life was wonderful.

There’s that word again: life. It is something we all take for granted. We get older, things get busy and complicated, bills pile up, jobs become stressful, laundry accumulates like snow in a blizzard, cars need repairs….life. We forget that it is a gift. We forget we have a Maker. We forget we have a purpose. We forget to dwell on His good words. We forget that we were knit together by knowing hands. Did you know that you were woven together? I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to knit before, but I have and, let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart . . . or the short on fingers! You have to know what you are making before you ever start a knitting project. You choose what you want to make and what stitch to use, you make sure you have the correct needles, and you decide on a color scheme. Then, you plan out what color will go where and how big each section will be to ensure you have enough of each color of yarn you have chosen. Finally, after all of your preparation, you start to knit. You have to pay attention to what you are doing, being careful not to drop any of your yarn. If you do notice a flaw in your pattern, you go back and fix it. Like I said, it is not a thoughtless process. It is significant, then, that we are described as having been “knit together” in our mother’s wombs.

I believe with every fiber of my being that I was no accident. God did not look away, drop a thread, and fail to go back and fix a flaw as he was forming me. “Wonderful are [His] works and my soul knows it very well.” God labored over my creation. He had a plan before he started the process. My difference was deliberate. I rest in the knowledge that God created me exactly as I am for His purposes. We don’t always, or even usually, know why things are the way they are, but there is such hope and peace in knowing the care with which we were created.

So, what is the point of this rambling, you ask? It is this. A simple question. If you had been my parents and you knew that you carried a baby with a deformity, a baby who may have other unseen disabilities, and the doctor muttered the words to you “there’s something wrong with her” . . . would you have aborted me?

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am human. I am different, but aren’t we all. And I would not be here had I been conceived to different people in a different time who wanted a child without flaw. When you stop and connect a real, living, breathing human being to abortion, things become more complicated. If you think people don’t still opt to abort babies with differences like mine, you are wrong. It happens every day. People look at what they have been given and decide it is not good enough. "It’s no big deal. We’ll try again later for a perfect baby. It’s not like it’s a human yet anyway. It’ll never amount to much. Society would reject such a child. Who would marry a person like that? We have to think of our future. We’re really protecting it from a lifetime of struggle. It’s for the best. . . . Isn’t it?"

A disability like mine means certain death to many unborn babies. This is a thought I cannot escape. We were exactly who we are before our hearts ever made a thump, before our mother ever felt us move inside of her womb, before the world knew if we were he or she. We were nameless to our parents, but our Father had already adorned us with the name “wonderful”. We were unknown, but the Lord’s eyes “saw [our] unformed substance”. I am no mistake. My heart grieves for the little ones gone and the mothers and fathers who never held their tiny bodies or kissed their sweet new skin. No earthly thing can fill a chasm so deep as a child lost. The grace of the cross, though, is a greater thing than the weight of our sin, and redeeming love awaits us all. All have fallen short and all can receive salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ. There is hope and restoration in Him, this I know. His promises are good. His words are true. His thoughts of us “outnumber the sand” and they are precious. He makes no divisions of race or ability. He chose life for you.

Think about life, ponder it. . . . Do you take it for granted so much that you would choose to rob another of such an ability? Would you choose life? Would you choose me?

“For you formed my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are you thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” Psalm 139:13-18

Monday, January 30, 2012

Family worship

I commented briefly before the sermon yesterday on heads of households leading worship in their homes. I did so on that occasion because January is recognized as Family Worship Month and yesterday was recognized as Family Worship Sunday.

If you desire to begin a regular worship time in your home or are looking for ideas in continuing worship time as a family, below are links to some resources:

-- Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has done some helpful writing on family worship. He has a 64-page book, Family Worship, that provides the biblical basis for family worship, its practice in Christian history and some guidance for today. You can find how to order it at his ministry website, www.biblicalspirituality.org. Here is a brief article he wrote on simplifying family worship.

-- Family Worship Month, which is a website dedicated to supporting the January emphasis, may be accessed here. It has numerous articles about the practice. I am familiar with most of these writers and commend them, but I have not read many of these articles and cannot say for sure I would necessarily affirm everything that is in them. If you have a question about anything in them, please let me know.

I think a point made by Whitney in his brief article is important. Let me paraphrase: Don't be intimidated. Don't make it complicated. Don't assume you have to do an hour or hours of preparation. It can be as simple -- especially starting out -- as dedicating 10 to 15 minutes to reading and commenting briefly on a Bible passage and spending time in prayer. The power of this practice can speak volumes -- especially to children.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship January 29

It was an important day in the life of God’s people under the Old Covenant, as recorded in Neh. 9. They gathered in Jerusalem and, at length, listened to the reading of God’s Word. They confessed their sins. They worshiped God. The Levites began a lengthy description of God and His merciful faithfulness to his people with these words in Neh. 9:5b-6: “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise! You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You.” As God’s people under the New Covenant, we will gather this Sunday to worship this same awesome God. He alone is the Lord, and may we exalt His glorious name with all that is within us. Will you prepare yourself – and help prepare those you have spiritual responsibility for – to worship God in spirit and in truth?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The life-changing power of the gospel

We looked at Rev. 5:9-10 at the close of last Sunday’s sermon on “The Bible's view of humanity in an unhuman age.” In the scene John describes around the great throne in Heaven, the four living creatures and 24 elders proclaim in song the Lamb of God has purchased human beings “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” These blood-bought people will gather around the throne to worship Christ as “a kingdom and priests.”

As I said, that event will bring together people across some great divides that exist now. Gathered to worship on the basis of the blood of the Lamb will be pro-lifers and former abortion rights advocates, trafficking victims and former traffickers, slaves and former slave owners, former racists and those whom they once hated.

Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently offered a reminder of that same power of the gospel while we are still on earth. He described some comments the late theologian Carl F.H. Henry offered when Moore and others were lamenting the future of evangelicals.

Henry replied, "Why, you speak as though Christianity were genetic. Of course, there is hope for the next generation of evangelicals. But the leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current evangelical establishment. They are probably still pagans."

Moore added in his post:
The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynist, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist right now. The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.

But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so. The new birth doesn’t just transform lives, creating repentance and faith; it also provides new leadership to the church, and fulfills Jesus’ promise to gift his church with everything needed for her onward march through space and time (Eph. 4:8-16). . . .

So relax.

And, be kind to that atheist in front of you on the highway, the one who just shot you an obscene gesture. He might be the one who evangelizes your grandchildren.
You may read Moore's entire post here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wartime lifestyle (Part 4)

In his book Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper says in part about his use of the phrase “wartime lifestyle:”
"Being spent" may sound dour. It is not. It is life-giving when we are spent to make others glad in God. Jesus taught us that "whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). . . .

Using our possessions in a way that makes the most needy glad in God would save us in more ways than one. It would confirm that Christ is our Treasure, and thus keep us on the path to heaven. And it would transform our society, which is driven by the suicidal craving to satisfy itself with no joy in Christ and no love for the needy. To rescue us from this tragedy we should ponder seriously the importance of a wartime lifestyle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thirty-nine years later, abortion is . . .

'vaikelis' photo (c) 2006, kambodza - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/We have again passed the annual marker for the culture of death. The Supreme Court decisions that wiped out all state laws restricting abortion and legalized the lethal act for effectively any reason at every point of pregnancy reached 39 years of age Sunday. Those Jan. 22, 1973, opinions have had a profound impact upon America and the world – and likely you and me.

What are some things we, as those purchased by Jesus’ blood, should recognize about legalized abortion four decades into its ruthless regime in America?

-- Abortion is a way of life. The Supreme Court said so in 1992. That was not a good judicial reason for protecting the “right to choose” the justices “discovered” in 1973, but their assessment was accurate for much of the American population. Consider this: About one-third of the population has known American life only with abortion as a legal procedure. Three in 10 American women have abortions before age 45. Yes, many women have come to depend on abortion, and we are lesser people for that misplaced, ill-fated faith. Many men have as well, using it as a coercive back-up for their sexual liberties with women. And sadly, we – as pro-life Christians -- often live lives oblivious to the slaughter of the innocents.

-- Abortion is a form of birth control. Dependence on abortion has resulted in it becoming a method of contraception for many women, and many men are all too happy for it to be so. About half of the women who have abortions in the United States are doing so for the second time – or third or fourth or more. We now have serial aborters – and they are hollowed women.

-- Abortion is a business. Planned Parenthood and other clinics have business plans that seek to maximize the performances of abortion and the money that comes with them, former employees have testified. They sell abortion. Men and women have become wealthy by implementing and fostering a system that convinces confused, conflicted and often coerced women to pay them to kill their babies.

-- Abortion is the great divider. No issue appears to have divided America over the last four decades like this one. The fault line runs through families, friends and communities – even churches. It has divided the country politically. We have one major political party that testifies to being pro-life, though it has dissenters in its ranks. The other is basically in captivity to abortion rights, and men with names like Kennedy, Jackson and Gore have changed their stances to find acceptance in their party.

-- Abortion is bigotry. All abortion demonstrates a prejudice against a whole class of people – the unborn. But it also is discriminatory against classes within that class. Black Americans make up only 13 percent of the population, but they have at least 30 percent of the abortions. Abortion clinics aid in this by locating often in minority and poor neighborhoods. An estimated 90 percent of children diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome or a similar condition are aborted. And the practice of sex-selection abortion has reached our shores, with some ethnic groups in this country making – as some have said – “It’s a girl” the three deadliest words.

-- Abortion is a wedge for other atrocities. Abortion’s legalization ushered in a culture of death that now stretches from the fertility clinic to the nursing home. Human beings are threatened as days-old embryos with lethal experimentation, as newborns with infanticide, as brain-injured adults with starvation and as the ailing elderly with assisted suicide. There is indeed a slippery slope.

-- Abortion is a religion. This may not be a large sect, but for a sizable number of Americans the right to kill unborn children is the idol before which they bow. Not only is their life ordered around the availability, they are committed to it with a fervor.

-- Abortion is a gospel issue. There are babies who need rescuing. There are women who need rescuing. There are men and parents who would coerce women and girls to abort their children who also need rescuing. The ultimate answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have it. Men and women who need salvation from their sins and deliverance from sexual immorality and abortions that may be the result need the gospel. Women and men who need salvation from their sins and cleansing from the abortions they have chosen need the gospel. Christians who have chosen abortion rather than disclose their sin to the church need the gospel; they need the reminder of God’s grace, forgiveness and hope found in the gospel. As the church, we have that hope, and it should compel us to sacrificial prayer, compassion, love, service and boldness for the glory of God, the exaltation of Jesus, and the rescue of human beings.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship January 22

Reading God’s Word and preaching God’s Word are two integral aspects of corporate worship. Neh. 8:1-8 provides a powerful and insightful picture of this. God’s people gather in the square in Jerusalem, and Ezra the priest reads to them from the book of the law of Moses. Verse 3 says “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” The Levites “explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place,” according to verse 7. This time of worship by God’s people includes the reading of Scripture and the explanation of Scripture. We read the Bible in corporate worship, and it reveals to us who God is and what He has done. We respond in praise, thanksgiving, confession, submission and supplication. A preacher/teacher explains God’s Word to us that we might know Him better and be conformed more to the image of Christ. As we gather this Sunday, may we do so prepared to hear God’s words and to respond to Him in worship marked by love, faith and obedience.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is the Bible a road map?

Is the Bible a road map? Not really, says Matt Chandler, and in the less than four-minute video below, the pastor of The Village Church in Dallas explains why. I also would say the Bible is not a series of moralistic tales.

Chandler shows how the well known story of David and Goliath is intended to portray the gospel of Jesus. He also explains why it is important that we see it that way. This video is a promotion of The Gospel Project, a new Bible curriculum from Lifeway Christian Resources, but that only shows up at the end. Don't let that discourage you from learning more about how you and I should view the stories of Scripture.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grace, book by book

God is a God of grace. His gospel is a gospel of grace.

Dane Ortlund, Crossway's Bible publishing director, has done a great service for recipients of God's saving grace by providing a brief description of grace manifested in each of the 66 books of the Bible. You may read his entire list here from a blog post in 2010.

Below are samples from different genres of the biblical books:
Numbers shows God’s grace in patiently sustaining his grumbling people in the wilderness and bringing them to the border of the promised land not because of them but in spite of them.

Ezra shows God’s grace to Israel in working through the most powerful pagan ruler of the time (Cyrus) to bring his people back home to a rebuilt temple.

Ecclesiastes shows God’s grace in its earthy reminder that the good things of life can never be pursued as the ultimate things of life and that it is God who in his mercy satisfies sinners (note 7:20; 8:11).

Jonah shows God’s grace toward both immoral Nineveh and moral Jonah, irreligious pagans and a religious prophet, both of whom need and both of whom receive the grace of God.

John shows God’s grace in becoming one of us, flesh and blood (1:14), and dying and rising again so that by believing we might have life in his name. (20:31)

Acts shows God’s grace flooding out to all the world -- starting in Jerusalem, ending in Rome; starting with Peter, apostle to the Jews, ending with Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. (1:8)

Philemon shows God’s grace in transcending socially hierarchical structures with the deeper bond of Christ-won Christian brotherhood. (v. 16)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The cross unites across all barriers

Our country observed yesterday the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist pastor who courageously led a movement in the 1950s and 1960s calling America to right long-held wrongs against a people on the basis of their skin color. Much progress has been made, but the sin of hatred and discrimination on the basis of skin color or ethnicity still eats away at many human hearts and pours forth in ugly ways.

If you are like me, you are not far removed from a culture of animosity toward people based on their skin color. Some of us grew up among people, some even professing Christians, who disparaged others on that basis. Some of us may have had to deal with racism and prejudice in our own hearts. Some of us still may need such pruning.

Fortunately, we -- as the church of Christ -- have the answer. It is the gospel of Jesus. Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus. By His cross, Jesus "broke down the barrier of the dividing wall" between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14), whose animosity for each other was huge. For the church, it is the blood of Christ that unites us across barriers of skin color, ethnicity and language.

John Piper especially has done some humble and, what appears to be, important work on this issue in recent months. He has written the book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. In it, he tells the story of how he left racism behind. Desiring God has made it available for free by download here.

He also has shared his story in a nearly 19-minute video documentary that accompanies Bloodlines and that you may view below.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why preach the gospel to yourself (No. 5)

'martino vs martinus' photo (c) 2007, spike - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is another reason to preach the gospel to yourself as provided by Milton Vincent in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians:
Outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found inside the gospel. This must be so, for the Bible twice describes the gospel as "the power of God." Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described in this way except for the Person of Jesus Christ. Such a description indicates that the gospel is not only powerful, but that it is the ultimate entity in which God's power resides and does its greatest work.

Indeed, God's power is seen in erupting volcanoes, in the unimaginably hot boil of our massive sun, and in the lightning speed of a recently discovered star seen streaking through the heavens at 1.5 million miles per hour. Yet in Scripture such wonders are never labeled "the power of God." How powerful, then, must the gospel be that it would merit such a title! And how great is the salvation it could accomplish in my life, if I would only embrace it by faith and give it a central place in my thoughts each day!
(Scriptures cited: Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 1:18, 24; Heb. 4:2; Eph. 1:18-19.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship January 15

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth.” Those are the opening words the mysterious priest Melchizedek shared, as recorded in Gen. 14:19, after Abram returned from rescuing his nephew Lot and others from Chedorlaomer and other kings. This Sunday, we will gather to worship that same God – “God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth.” God owns it all. He has made it all. He controls it all. The owner has the right to do what He chooses with what He owns. That includes us. By His grace, He has chosen to provide a Rescuer who has delivered us from captivity. He has purchased a people who belong to Him. We are His people, if we have trusted Him alone to rescue us from sin. We will gather this Sunday to worship this One who has purchased us and will maintain His possession of us forever.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tim Tebow and God's providence

'Tim Tebow' photo (c) 2010, Jeffrey Beall - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/How many people have actually escaped the Tim Tebow phenomenon the last three months? It would seem few, even among those who have little interest in football. The stunning exploits of Tim Tebow and his team, the Denver Broncos, have captured widespread attention. During an eight-game stretch, Tebow helped lead his National Football League team to seven victories, often in comebacks against great odds. Three times, they won in overtime. Though his team and he lost their final three games of the regular season, they qualified for the playoffs.

Because Tebow is an outspoken, evangelical Christian, many believers have followed him closely. But his bold witness also has produced many Tebow haters.

The rise of Tebow in the American consciousness hit a new peak last Sunday, when the Broncos upset the defending American Conference-champion Pittsburgh Steelers. On the first play from scrimmage in overtime, Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard touchdown pass to win the game, 29-23. He passed for a total of 316 yards – a stat that many reporters and bloggers, including non-Christians, connected to John 3:16. That address of what is probably the best known verse in the Bible was one Tebow inscribed in his eye-black for a big game when he was quarterback at the University of Florida.

The interest, and reaction, not only in the United States but around the world was overwhelming. The CBS-TV affiliate in Denver reported the winning pass Sunday produced a record 9,240 tweets per second, according to Twitter. Based on Tebow’s passing yardage, John 3:16 was the most widely searched item on Google for much of Sunday night into Monday, according to Denver’s CBS station. The TV audience was the largest ever for a NFL, wild-card game.

To watch and listen to Tebow at a press conference after such a win is undoubtedly frustrating for sportswriters looking for provocative quotes but inspiring and instructional for Christians and some others. He thanks the Lord Jesus. He continually deflects attention to his teammates and coaches. He demonstrates humility and unselfishness in a sports culture too often marked by displays of self-glory and entitlement.

One of the subjects the heroics of Tebow and his team have brought attention to is God’s involvement in their success. After a well-known TV sportscaster tackled the subject Dec. 11, a young theologian responded with a blog post for The Gospel Coalition. You can read Owen Strachan’s post here. You will have to read it to get the entire flow of his thought. Strachan, a professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., finished his post – which he titled “Tebow, Calvin and the Hand of God in Sports” – with the following:
As with every other believer, God's hand is leading Tebow's life, blessing him as he applies Christian character to the task before him. God moves in mysterious ways. As previously stated, I do not have biblical grounds for seeing Tebow's fourth-quarter heroics as an outworking of God's direct causation. But I do know that God often delights to spurn the wisdom of the world by the efforts of his people (1 Cor. 1:20).

And I know, lastly, that the most important story here is not that Tebow and the Broncos are winning in dramatic fashion, but that the Lord seems to have worked in this man such that, though faced with unbelievable fame, major wealth, constant attention, and the classically all-American success story, Tebow seems only to want to talk about the gospel.

That, my friends, is the real miracle, and the work in which all of us -- whether church planter, pipe-fitter, or homemaker -- may participate.
Strachan wrote a similar piece for the readers of The Atlantic that was published today. You can read it here.

Also, Nathan Busenitz posted today five reasons he likes Tebow and five concerns he has about Tebow mania. You can read it here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rehearsing the gospel with 'The Gospel Song'

We sang "The Gospel Song" for the first time in corporate worship last Sunday. This simple but profound song is a brief explanation of the gospel of Jesus.It was written by Drew Jones and Bob Kauflin and published and recorded by Sovereign Grace Worship in 2002. The lyrics are:
Holy God in love became
Perfect Man to bear my blame
On the cross He took my sin
By His death I live again
As I said Sunday, this would be a great song for adults and children, even young ones, to learn and sing. Words set to music often seem easier to remember, especially for little ones. I talk about preaching the gospel to ourselves and rehearsing the gospel. Singing this song to ourselves regularly would be a great way to learn and rehearse the gospel. It can be one part of preparing children to understand and believe the gospel.

Below is a video showing the lyrics as the song is sung in about a minute. The next video is of a longer version of the song with animation by Chris Powers, as well as a brief explanation of the gospel and invitation to receive Christ by John Piper.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Prayer is not a domestic intercom

I preached yesterday in my series through the gospel of Luke on the first 13 verses of chapter 11. In that passage, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray. To follow on that sermon, here is what I consider a most helpful quote from John Piper in his book Let the Nations Be Glad!:
Probably the number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (go and bear fruit), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the General's headquarters, and said, "Comrades, the general has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and send air cover when you need it."

But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses and cabins and boats and cars -- not to call in fire power for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask for more comforts in the den.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship January 8

We will pray when we gather as a church in worship this Sunday. It is part of what a church does in its corporate worship. Our prayers will take several forms. We will offer praise and thanksgiving. We will confess our sins. We will make requests. Each of us will have the opportunity to pray silently, but, in at least some cases, we will have the opportunity to pray aloud. Some will lead us as a church in prayer, and we will have the opportunity to agree with what they are praying. In all this, we will do so following the example Jesus gave us in the model prayer and coming to God through Christ and His totally sufficient work. May we prepare for this time with minds and hearts focused on God’s greatness and gracious provision, humbly recognizing our unworthiness apart from Christ and trusting in Him to answer our petitions for His glory and the good of His kingdom.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Some reasons for being a faithful church member

Christians belong in churches. That is a theme of the New Testament. A Christian who refuses to be faithfully, accountably committed to a church is an anomaly from the Bible's perspective. The church is vital to the spiritual health of a follower of Jesus.

In September, Paul Tautges, pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Sheboygan, Wis., provided on his blog an explanation for why Christians should be committed members of a local church.

His “6 Reasons to Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church” are:
1. You follow the pattern set forth in the New Testament.

2. You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gifts.

3. You become a more committed part of a spiritual family.

4. You ensure a balanced Christian life.

5. You avail yourself of the wisdom of a multitude of counselors.

6. You experience the joy of serving others.
This is not a comprehensive list of the biblically based reasons for church membership. And I might phrase at least one of the points a little differently. Yet, it remains a helpful guide from a pastor who has given thoughtful consideration to the topic.

You may access Paul Tautges’ complete post here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why preach the gospel to yourself (No. 4)

'martino vs martinus' photo (c) 2007, spike - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is another reason to preach the gospel to yourself as provided by Milton Vincent in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians:
More than anything else I could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.

Preaching the gospel to myself each day provides a lens through which I can view my trials in this way and see the true cause for rejoicing that exists in them. I can then embrace trials as friends and allow them to do God's good work in me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The importance of grasping the gospel

The focus of the New Testament is Jesus and His work. That is what I said in Sunday's sermon on Luke 10:38-42. The person and work of Jesus are communicated through the apostles' preaching and writing. In my sermon text, I made the following comments in talking about sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to His word, although I said them somewhat differently:
As God the Son, He served us. As Matt. 20:28 says, “[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.”

God the Son humbled Himself and became a man. As a man, He lived a perfectly righteous life in order to be the perfectly acceptable sacrifice for our sins in His death on the cross. That perfect life enables Him to be our righteousness. His righteousness is credited to the account of all who trust in Him and His death for their sins. He died in our place on the cross, receiving from His own Father the punishment that we should have received. For all who place their faith in Him and His death, their sins are wiped clean forever and the condemnation they should have received is lifted. That is the gospel. That is good news.

The vastness and depth of the gospel makes it like a deep ocean we can swim in throughout our lives and never get to the end or the bottom of all its reality. We should be constantly in a state of listening to Christ through His Word to learn the meaning and scope of the gospel, to understand more fully all the benefits we have received by His life, death and resurrection.

As I understand the Bible, the gospel of Jesus – which has His life, death and resurrection at the center, which is about who He is and what He has done – is at the heart of true change even for Christians. The gospel is not just about entering the Christian life. It is what the Christian life is about.

As I was telling a friend last week, I think we, as Christians, don’t understand the gospel and its benefits to us like we should. And that lack of understanding impairs us. Yes, as Christians, we undergo trials and suffering. We should expect them. Yes, as Christians, we can have physical or chemical problems that affect us emotionally. We should seek physicians’ help to see if those problems have such root causes.

But day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, we can live lives – even as Christians -- marked by despair, dissatisfaction, criticism, defeat,anger, envy and insecurity. We can feel like we are often unaccepted by God. We can believe our acceptance by God is based on our performance. So we resolve to work and serve harder in order to gain His acceptance, thinking that acceptance is based on our merit when it is based only on the merit of Jesus.

So how do we change this? How do we understand who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for us? How do we grasp the fullness of the gospel’s benefits?

We sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His word.
We listen to His word now by spending time in God's Word. You can find in my January 1 blog post some suggestions on spending time in the Bible this year -- with the goal of knowing Jesus and His gospel more fully and applying the perfect accomplishment of His work more completely. Knowing Him and His gospel is one step toward true change for us. It also can glorify God and exalt Jesus.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reading the Bible in 2012

Reading the Bible through has been a blessing enjoyed by my wife, Linda, and me each of the last three years. We have used the reading plan devised by Robert Murray M'Cheyne in the early 19th Century. A Scottish pastor who died at the age of 29, M'Cheyne's system of reading four different passages each day enables a person to read all of the Bible once in a year, plus Psalms and the New Testament twice. D.A. Carson has written four volumes of For the Love of God to go along with M'Cheyne's reading plan. You may find M'Cheyne's plan here. You may read a devotional from Carson each day on one of the readings here.

M'Cheyne's plan has been valuable to us, but there are also several other plans for reading the Bible in a year. Justin Taylor recently blogged on reading plans here and provided links to several other options. I encourage you to check a few out to see which one would fit your schedule and preferences best. The goal need not be to finish the Bible in a year but to read it at whatever pace you can so that you might know the God of the Bible better.

In today's sermon on Luke 10:38-42, I talked about what I believe to be a vital truth in that passage: We should learn how Jesus has served us in order to serve Him and others. Jesus has served us by His life, death and resurrection. Who He is and what He has done is the heart of the gospel. As Christians, we need to grow in our understanding of the gospel and its benefits. As I said today, I think many of us -- as Christians -- are impaired in our daily lives because we don't comprehend what Jesus has accomplished for us, what the gospel really means for us.

For this, I recommended a reading plan I recently read about that is based on a book more than 100 years old. That book, How to Master the English Bible, explains a system of reading a book of the Bible in one sitting over and over until the reader has mastered that particular book -- or, as at least one writer said, the book has mastered him. You may read what one evangelical Christian wrote about it here.

While repetitive reading of any book would be profitable, I recommended today four books for more fully understanding the gospel and its effects: Romans; Galatians; Ephesians, and Colossians. I would suggest starting with Colossians (four chapters) or Galatians (six chapters).

May God bless you this year for His glory as you feed on the gospel of Jesus.